Yamal's carbon dump: Climate technology at work
Future of tundra studies19 october 2023
In 2024, Yamal will see the launch of its first carbon dump, Seven Larches—a project initiated three years ago that has become a part of extensive stationary Arctic climate research. It forms part of a nationwide network comprising 17 research stations spread across over 39 thousand hectares, stretching from the Arctic to the Caucasus Mountains. Carbon dumps are used to measure greenhouse gas content and emissions in various natural ecosystems, assess water resource quality and other climate and ecology-related parameters.
Year-round observations form the basis for recommendations on environmental policy, suggested carbon dioxide emission levels and other climate-active gas emissions for national leadership and businesses. Carbon dumps facilitate the collection of substantial data (covering 23.1% of Russia's territory as of 2022), which is used to develop and test new technologies aimed at mitigating the anthropogenic impact on climate. Project participants also train specialists to implement low-carbon solutions in businesses and so on.
Seven Larches are nearly fully grown
At present, the Seven Larches site is nearing completion. Despite the carbon dump project being initiated in 2021, traditional Arctic factors such as complex logistics, weather conditions and distance from populated areas with developed infrastructure have impacted the construction timeline. In an interview with Sever-Press, Vladislav Isaev, Director of the Arctic Studies Scientific Centre, noted that selecting a location for the Seven Larches was a challenging task in itself. On one hand, the project required a location that encompassed the widest range of biomes. The 2,000-hectares site features Arctic tundra, northern taiga and forest tundra, largely untouched by human activities. Indeed, in certain regions, locals herd reindeer and occasionally all-terrain vehicles pass through, but there are no significant industrial businesses or settlements.
Primarily, it's permafrost with a freezing depth ranging from 0.8 to 2.5 m, where snow covers the ground from September to May, and the average winter temperature is –23.1°C.
On the other hand, according to Vladislav Isaev, the construction of a 198-metre mast and an autonomous service complex necessitated 'some semblance of infrastructure.' Its relative closeness to Labytnangi, one of the major populated areas in the YNAA, enabled the project's execution, as transporting such a large quantity of equipment and materials to more remote regions would have been utterly impossible. The mast operates year-round, automatically collecting data from the surface layer within approximately an 800-kilometre radius around the station. The primary responsibility of the maintenance staff is to ensure the uninterrupted operation of the machinery and a steady stream of data to the mainland. As of now, one laboratory complex and a meteorological station have been constructed, with plans in progress to build another, larger laboratory for a team of scientists. They will be conducting an extensive analysis of the data from the mast as well as their own environmental research. Interestingly, the potential of the carbon polygon extends far beyond untouched nature—the project's implementation allows for a portion of YNAA's urbanised area to be included.
Carbon farms in the marshlands
The emergence of the Seven Larches in YNAA is expected to provide substantial clarity to the ongoing alterations in the region's ecosystem. On one hand, Yamal is home to a considerable number of extraction companies with high levels of carbon dioxide emissions. Even considering the current pace of equipment modernisation, the industry's impact on the environment remains quite high. Collectively, Russia accounts for 17% of global gas emissions, and Yamal, being one of the country's key extraction regions, plays a significant role in this process. Yet, YNAA doesn't resemble a charred toxic wasteland, and it's not due to the abundance of unoccupied territories that would make the polluted nature less noticeable.
Vladislav Isaev suggests that there are natural compensatory mechanisms, known as 'carbon farms,' that handle a portion of carbon dioxide processing. Sphagnum mosses across tens of thousands of kilometres of Yamal swamps absorb or, in scientific terms, sequester carbon dioxide, with the absorption process being dominant. The larch forests of the forest tundra are also functioning, gradually but steadily advancing north. Global warming is eroding the permafrost, enabling plant species from more southern regions to expand into previously inhospitable latitudes.»
Certainly, these are just preliminary conclusions. Carbon polygons are essential for developing a universal model, applicable to each specific region and the country as a whole. These will potentially facilitate the establishment of a new industry aimed at mitigating the effects of CO2 on the climate. Scientists are currently contemplating technical solutions for establishing industrial carbon farms that, like the hardworking mosses of the Yamal swamps, will purify the atmosphere and counteract the increasing impact of human activity on the climate. For example, an experiment was carried out on Sakhalin to evaluate the amount of gas accumulated in marine marshes. These are submerged terraces filled with organic silt washed out from peat bogs. Research has indicated that they are among the most voluminous carbon storage sites in the area, which has already attracted the attention of gas and oil companies.
Vadim Moskvichev, a Khabarovsk-based expert in forest-climate projects, believes that carbon farms present a highly appealing investment opportunity. In his article for RG, he noted that as of 2022, the price of a single carbon unit was EUR 30 in Europe and approximately RUB 1,000 in Sakhalin. Although the market is still in its formative stage, it's becoming evident that environmental stewardship is not just a governmental responsibility but could also be a lucrative business venture in the near future.Read more Investment and development in a harsh climate The Krasnoyarsk Economic Forum discussed the needs of AZRF residents